Loving Words from Home: My Mother’s Poems

IMG_3787So I’d better keep composing

(While the muse is still in touch)

And produce a minor sonnet,

Though it won’t impress you much—

 

It’s not Shakespeare, Donne or Kipling

It’s not Edgar Allen Poe

Just a little rhyme from Mommy,

Just a verse to let you know:

 

You’re tremendously important/

Entertaining/pretty/dear–

And I’ll write you (if you’re patient)

A much better “pome” next year.

I’ve mentioned before that my mother is a serial crafter. She’s had a number of creative hobbies over the years–she does them intensely (not to say obsessively!), and then stops. And I do mean stops. Completely. Never to return to that craft again no matter how good she was at it or how much her family begs.

Only one of her creative endeavors has stood the test of time.

When I was a child, sewing was her passion. She made her clothes and the clothes for my sister and me. She made beautiful things, including my favorite–a bottle-green velvet prom gown, a glamorous sheath with 40 velvet-covered buttons down the back. My sister and I never had to worry that we’d get caught wearing the same boring old store-bought dress as someone else at a party!

Then she knit beautiful sweaters. She remembers reading knitting patterns in bed, to fall asleep, and using the best parts of many patterns to create her own designs. She re-upholstered furniture. She had a polymer clay phase (who didn’t?!), and so on.

All the time she was immersed in these creative outlets, she was a full-time teacher of first graders. She was the one who taught those little kids how to read and write; she introduced them to the power of language and helped them become “arthurs,” in the classic words of one of her little authors.

The thrill she got in teaching children to write, to express themselves in words, may explain the one creative outlet that she has pursued all her adult life. She may have been a serial crafter but she has been a persistent, prolific wordsmith, commemorating many of our family’s highs, and a few lows, in her poems.*

My mother is not a poet in the Yeats or cummings or Browning vein. She has always favored the Dr. Seuss school of verse, wordplay and impeccable rhyme, cleverness and fun. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Dickinson or Keats.

Where other poets seek to write timeless words that transcend an individual meaning to speak to humanity, my mother’s poetry has always been very personal, very tailored to the recipient, and very heavy on family in-jokes and code. As I’ve been re-reading them, I was interested to see how many it would be pointless to share because no one outside the family would get the jokes!

She has written dozens of poems over the years. starting, as she recalls, with one written for a boy she dated way back when. We don’t have a copy of that poem but we have many of the others and it is incredible fun to re-read them and recall the details of where we were in our lives at the time of that poem’s creation.

She wrote one poem, for instance, in 1982, that reminds me just how long I have had my “hands at home” orientation. A portion of the poem:

At easel, brush in

Hand, she toils

With watercolors

(Rarely oils.)

She sketches—charcoal

Pen and pencil;

(She’d never trace or

Use a stencil!)

 

And as for jewelry,

Lovely things—

Pendants, pins and

Clever rings—

Designed in copper,

Silver, gold,

Or fashioned from

A waxen mold.

 

She bought a fleece

Right after shearing

And played around

With pioneering;

She washed it, carded,

Combed it, too.

(I’d call it silly,

Wouldn’t ewe?)

 

Did that deter her?

Not a minute—

Built a wheel and

Learned to spin it!

When I finally (and finally is the only word to use here) finished my doctoral dissertation, she found 19 words to rhyme with “dissertation”:

After years of tribulation

(Some have called “procrastination”)

Comes the moment of elation:

Kerry’s done her dissertation!

 

Times of struggle and frustration,

Overwhelming complication,

Feelings close to resignation,

Loss of drive and concentration . . .

You get the idea!

Her gift for words has proven useful at untold birthdays and holidays, especially when she didn’t have quite the right gift or had a gift that needed explaining. She’s written some poems for landmark birthdays, like this favorite from when my husband turned 55:

You’ve got a lot

To celebrate

Look forward to,

Anticipate.

So, let me now

Reiterate:

It’s not the time to

Vegetate.

We really cannot

Overstate

Nor let ourselves

Procrastinate!

We really must

Appreciate

The chance to

Superannuate!

We have the time

To demonstrate

Nutrition will

Rejuvenate,

And exercise

Facilitate,

As eagerly we

Contemplate

The years and years

Of feeling great!

But she’s also commemorated odd birthdays, like me at 23 and my sister at 26. She’s used the poems to bolster us up when we’ve been having a rough time, assuring us the next job will come, the weight gain doesn’t have to be permanent, someday our princes will come. And when my prince did come, she wrote a superb poem, describing our tiny, private wedding on the lake, and included a verse about the three white ducks who came by to serve as bridesmaids:

Then the “bridesmaids” waddled over,

And participated proudly,

Dressed in matching white ensembles

And, as always, quacking loudly.

My sister’s brain surgery, my mother’s own torn rotator cuff, the scary mistakes made by the doctors when the ONLY grandchild was born . . . all have been commemorated in verse. Commemorating them this way, after the worst was over, served to focus attention on the happy outcomes and turn the trials into new family stories of perseverance and triumph!

It is because of my mother that we are a family that loves words—she’s passed this down to her girls. I love to write (no! really?) and my mother was, I think, happier than I was when my book and articles were published.

My sister uses words in crazy, funny, inventive ways that have passed into family lore. And all of us have multiple bizarre nicknames that she has bestowed on us: Do-Bob, Bucket, Mumba-qua-drumba—we know who we are!

The “only grandchild” has a lot of pressure on her but she gives every indication of being prepared to live up to expectations. She is already well known for the personal and loving messages she writes her family on birthdays and has a quiet, deadly, and intelligent sense of humor.

The people we bring into the circle need to be at the top of their word skills, too. I married a man who makes up numbers to tell me how much he loves me (ochenta-noventa-ciento-mil1000) and cries when he sings songs with sad words.

And at 80, after 41 years a widow, my mother married a man, a retired newscaster, who loves words as we all do. He uses them in ways that are precise, funny, sly, and that make us think. And he cries at sad songs, too.

Together, they live on the lake near us in summer and in Florida in winter. They do crossword puzzles, read, and enjoy witty repartee. They now have their shared moments of perfection, worthy of commemoration:

The sunsets we watched on the water,

The snowstorm of geese in their flight,

The horoscope-readings at breakfast,

The absolute darkness of night.

My mother is now 82. She worries that the words don’t come as easily as they once did and she sometimes struggles to find the right one. This happens as one grows older but it has to be especially frustrating for her, to whom words were always best friends.

She hasn’t written a poem in a while, and we miss them. But, still, we have years’ worth of her thoughts, and memories, and love to re-visit whenever we need a little boost and a laugh. How many people are so lucky?

Loving words from home . . . .

___________________________________________________

* My mother has often called these “pomes,” not poems, in part, she says, because it’s easier to find a rhyme for “pome.” I’ve never cared for that substitution, rhyme-worthiness notwithstanding, because I think it trivializes what she does!

evel & girls

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27 thoughts on “Loving Words from Home: My Mother’s Poems

  1. How delightful! I’m especially impressed with all the rhymes for “dissertation”! My family also loves to produce “poetry” (I use the term loosely) for special occasions, so this post spoke to me!

  2. Hi Kerry! What a wonderful blog post. I absolutely loved reading it. This line made me laugh out loud: “Then the “bridesmaids” waddled over” So funny! She is so very clever and witty. And her daughter is too! What a treasure to have all those poems from her. I am not a great writer, but I greatly admire ‘wordsmiths’ like you. Blessings, Jackie

    • Thanks, Jackie–what kind words! I have a wedding photo of those 3 ducks, standing next to my husband and me, all lined up–it’s a hoot! And don’t sell yourself short as a writer–I think you very clearly communicate about the things and people you love!

  3. What a truly amazing and multi talented person your Mum is. What a great legacy she leaves behind. Thanks for sharing – it somehow feels as if you have let us into the private world of your family. xx

  4. How lovely and how well written by you too! what a dear story and I so enjoyed it. So precious.My mom passed away not so long ago and we shared a love for reading and knitting. She was not a poet as your mother but I keep finding little notes and magazine clips she kept in her books I received form her. So precious too. Thanks for sharing Kerry!

    • Thanks, Johanna! I’m so pleased you liked this! I think it’s very special that you’re finding little “messages” left by your mother. I know when I run across anything with my father’s or my grandmothers’ handwriting, I get a little thrill!

  5. How wonderful to have this collection of poems. I am in awe of those who can rhyme. And I bet there are many first graders with very happy memories of their time with your mother.

      • Ditto! Happy tears after waiting many months to have the right quiet time to enjoy reading. Love Ninny, your sister, her daughter and you. Thanks, Kerry!

      • Well, sadly, I don’t know who wrote this, although I have some guesses. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment–these poems mean a lot to everyone in the family!

    • My mother does have a way with words, not just in the poems–thanks for reading! And, yes, that “only grandchild” has been put on notice! But, at 17, she seems to have other things on her mind! 😉

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